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Chapter 7


Andrew is just as thin as I am fat, and his clothes hang on him in
the most comical way. He is very tall and shambling, wears a ragged
beard and a broad Stetson hat, and suffers amazingly from hay fever
in the autumn. (In fact, his essay on "Hay Fever" is the best thing
he ever wrote, I think.) As he came striding up the road I noticed
how his trousers fluttered at the ankles as the wind plucked at
them. The breeze curled his beard back under his chin and his face
was quite dark with anger. I couldn't help being amused; he looked
so funny.

"The Sage looks like Bernard Shaw," whispered Mifflin.

I always believe in drawing first blood.

"Good-morning, Andrew," I called cheerfully. "Want to buy any
books?" I halted Pegasus, and Andrew stood a little in front of
the wheel--partly out of breath and mostly out of temper.

"What on earth is this nonsense, Helen?" he said angrily. "You've
led me the deuce of a chase since yesterday. And who is this--this
person you're driving with?"

"Andrew," I said, "you forget your manners. Let me introduce Mr.
Mifflin. I have bought his caravan and am taking a holiday, selling
books. Mr. Mifflin is on his way to Port Vigor where he takes the
train to Brooklyn."

Andrew stared at the Professor without speaking. I could tell by the
blaze in his light-blue eyes that he was thoroughly angry, and I
feared things would be worse before they were better. Andrew is slow
to wrath, but a very hard person to deal with when roused. And I had
some inkling by this time of the Professor's temperament. Moreover,
I am afraid that some of my remarks had rather prejudiced him
against Andrew, as a brother at any rate and apart from his
excellent prose.

Mifflin had the next word. He had taken off his funny little cap,
and his bare skull shone like an egg. I noticed a little sort of
fairy ring of tiny drops around his crown.

"My dear sir," said Mifflin, "the proceedings look somewhat unusual,
but the facts are simple to narrate. Your sister has bought this van
and its contents, and I have been instructing her in my theories of
the dissemination of good books. You as a literary man..."

Andrew paid absolutely no attention to the Professor, and I saw a
slow flush tinge Mifflin's sallow cheek.

"Look here, Helen," said Andrew, "do you think I propose to have my
sister careering around the State with a strolling vagabond? Upon my
soul you ought to have better sense--and at your age and weight! I
got home yesterday and found your ridiculous note. I went to Mrs.
Collins, and she knew nothing. I went to Mason's, and found him
wondering who had bilked his telephone. I suppose you did that. He
had seen this freight car of yours and put me on the track. But my
God! I never thought to see a woman of forty abducted by gypsies!"

Mifflin was about to speak but I waved him back.

"Now see here Andrew," I said, "you talk too quickly. A woman of
forty (you exaggerate, by the way) who has compiled an anthology
of 6,000 loaves of bread and dedicated it to you deserves some
courtesy. When _you_ want to run off on some vagabond tour or other
you don't hesitate to do it. You expect me to stay home and do
the Lady Eglantine in the poultry yard. By the ghost of Susan B.
Anthony, I won't do it! This is the first real holiday I've had in
fifteen years, and I'm going to suit myself."

Andrew's mouth opened, but I shook my fist so convincingly that he
halted.

"I bought this Parnassus from Mr. Mifflin fair and square for four
hundred dollars. That's the price of about thirteen hundred dozen
eggs," I said. (I had worked this out in my head while Mifflin was
talking about his book.)

"The money's mine, and I'm going to use it my own way. Now, Andrew
McGill, if you want to buy any books, you can parley with me.
Otherwise, I'm on my way. You can expect me back when you see me."
I handed him one of Mifflin's little cards, which were in a pocket
at the side of the van, and gathered up the reins. I was really
angry, for Andrew had been both unreasonable and insulting.

Andrew looked at the card, and tore it in halves. He looked at the
side of Parnassus where the fresh red lettering was still damp.

"Well, upon my word," he said, "you must be crazy." He burst into a
violent fit of sneezing--a last touch of hay fever, I suspect, as
there was still goldenrod in the meadows. He coughed and sneezed
furiously, which made him madder than ever. At last he turned to
Mifflin who was sitting bald-headed with a flushed face and very
bright eyes. Andrew took him all in, the shabby Norfolk jacket, the
bulging memorandum book in his pocket, the stuffed portmanteau under
his foot, even the copy of "Happiness and Hayseed" which had dropped
to the floor and lay back up.

"Look here, you," said Andrew, "I don't know by what infernal arts
you cajoled my sister away to go vagabonding in a huckster's wagon,
but I know this, that if you've cheated her out of her money I'll
have the law on you."

I tried to insert a word of protest, but matters had gone too far.
The Professor was as mad as Andrew now.

"By the bones of Piers Plowman," he said, "I had expected to meet a
man of letters and the author of this book"--he held up "Happiness
and Hayseed"--"but I see I was mistaken. I tell you, sir, a man who
would insult his sister before a stranger, as you have done, is an
oaf and a cad." He threw the book over the hedge, and before I could
say a word he had vaulted over the off wheel and ran round behind
the van.

"Look here sir," he said, with his little red beard bristling, "your
sister is over age and acting of her own free will. By the bones of
the Baptist, I don't blame her for wanting a vacation if this is the
way you treat her. She is nothing to me, sir, and I am nothing to
her, but I propose to be a teacher to you. Put up your hands and
I'll give you a lesson!"

This was too much for me. I believe I screamed aloud, and started
to clamber from the van. But before I could do anything the two
fanatics had begun to pummel each other. I saw Andrew swing savagely
at Mifflin, and Mifflin hit him square on the chin. Andrew's hat
fell on the road. Peg stood placidly, and Bock made as if to grab
Andrew's leg, but I hopped out and seized him.

It was certainly a weird sight. I suppose I should have wrung my
hands and had hysterics, but as a matter of fact I was almost
amused, it was so silly. Thank goodness the road was deserted.

Andrew was a foot taller than the Professor, but awkward, loosely
knit, and unmuscular, while the little Redbeard was wiry as a cat.
Also Andrew was so furious that he was quite beside himself, and
Mifflin was in the cold anger that always wins. Andrew landed a
couple of flailing blows on the other man's chest and shoulders,
but in thirty seconds he got another punch on the chin followed by
one on the nose that tumbled him over backward.

Andrew sat in the road fishing for a handkerchief, and Mifflin stood
glaring at him, but looking very ill at ease. Neither of them said a
word. Bock broke away from me and capered and danced about Mifflin's
feet as if it were all a game. It was an extraordinary scene.

Andrew got up, mopping his bleeding nose.

"Upon my soul," he said, "I almost respect you for that punch. But
by Jove I'll have the law on you for kidnapping my sister. You're a
fine kind of a pirate."

Mifflin said nothing.

"Don't be a fool, Andrew" I said. "Can't you see that I want a
little adventure of my own? Go home and bake six thousand loaves of
bread, and by the time they're done I'll be back again. I think two
men of your age ought to be ashamed of yourselves. I'm going off to
sell books." And with that I climbed up to the seat and clucked to
Pegasus. Andrew and Mifflin and Bock remained standing in the road.

I was mad all the way through. I was mad at both men for behaving
like schoolboys. I was mad at Andrew for being so unreasonable,
yet in a way I admired him for it; I was mad at Mifflin for giving
Andrew a bloody nose, and yet I appreciated the spirit in which it
was done. I was mad at myself for causing all the trouble, and I was
mad at Parnassus. If there had been a convenient cliff handy I would
have pushed the old thing over it. But now I was in for it, and just
had to go on. Slowly I rolled up a long grade, and then saw Port
Vigor lying ahead and the broad blue stretches of the Sound.

Parnassus rumbled on with its pleasant creak, and the mellow sun and
sweep of the air soon soothed me. I began to taste salt in the wind,
and above the meadows two or three seagulls were circling. Like
all women, my angry mood melted into a reaction of exaggerated
tenderness and I began to praise both Andrew and Mifflin in my
heart. How fine to have a brother so solicitous of his sister's
welfare and reputation! And yet, how splendid the little, scrawny
Professor had been! How quick to resent an insult and how bold to
avenge it! His absurd little tweed cap was lying on the seat, and I
picked it up almost sentimentally. The lining was frayed and torn.
From my suit case in the van I got out a small sewing kit, and
hanging the reins on a hook I began to stitch up the rents as
Peg jogged along. I thought with amusement of the quaint life
Mr. Mifflin had led in his "caravan of culture." I imagined him
addressing the audience of Whitman disciples in Camden, and wondered
how the fuss ended. I imagined him in his beloved Brooklyn,
strolling in Prospect Park and preaching to chance comers his gospel
of good books. How different was his militant love of literature
from Andrew's quiet satisfaction. And yet how much they really had
in common! It tickled me to think of Mifflin reading aloud from
"Happiness and Hayseed," and praising it so highly, just before
fighting with the author and giving him a bloody nose. I remembered
that I should have spoken to Andrew about feeding the hens, and
reminded him of his winter undergarments. What helpless creatures
men are, after all!

I finished mending the cap in high good humour.

I had hardly laid it down when I heard a quick step in the road
behind me, and looking back, there was Mifflin, striding along with
his bald pate covered with little beads of moisture. Bock trotted
sedately at his heels. I halted Peg.

"Well," I said, "what's happened to Andrew?"

The Professor still looked a bit shamefaced. "The Sage is a
tenacious person," he said. "We argued for a bit without much
satisfaction. As a matter of fact we nearly came to blows again,
only he got another waft of goldenrod, which started him sneezing,
and then his nose began bleeding once more. He is convinced that
I'm a ruffian, and said so in excellent prose. Honestly, I admire
him a great deal. I believe he intends to have the law on me. I
gave him my Brooklyn address in case he wants to follow the matter
up. I think I rather pleased him by asking him to autograph
'Happiness and Hayseed' for me. I found it lying in the ditch."

"Well," I said, "you two are certainly a great pair of lunatics. You
both ought to go on the stage. You'd be as good as Weber and Fields.
Did he give you the autograph?"

He pulled the book out of his pocket. Scrawled in it in pencil were
the words "I have shed blood for Mr. Mifflin. Andrew McGill."

"I shall read the book again with renewed interest," said Mifflin.
"May I get in?"

"By all means," I said. "There's Port Vigor in front of us."

He put on his cap, noticed that it seemed to feel different, pulled
it off again, and then looked at me in a quaint embarrassment.

"You are very good, Miss McGill," he said.

"Where did Andrew go?" I asked.

"He set off for Shelby on foot," Mifflin answered. "He has a grand
stride for walking. He suddenly remembered that he had left some
potatoes boiling on the fire yesterday afternoon, and said he must
get back to attend to them. He said he hoped you would send him a
postal card now and then. Do you know, he reminds me of Thoreau more
than ever."

"He reminds me of a burnt cooking pot," I said. "I suppose all my
kitchenware will be in a horrible state when I get home."

Christopher Morley

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